THROUGH THE Barrier Free Yonsei Gloabal Camp, funded by Ministry of Education in Korea, eleven disabled students and four assistant students had the opportunity to visit prestigious universities and institutions in the United States to explore institutional and financial supports toward the disabled. The primary aim was to learn about the differences in institutional and societal treatments toward the disabled between Korea and the United States. During the trip, we discovered some shocking differences.
The first city, we visited was San Francisco. The first difference we noticed was the well-maintained facilities for the disabled. Unlike Korea, every building, every restaurant, and even the street roads were barrier-free, meaning that there were no barriers that could hinder the movements of the disabled. Even small things like tissue and soap dispensers were customized for the disabled, and restroom doors had buttons added for the disabled. Even MacDonald had slopes so that wheel chairs could enter. The two wheel chairs users in the Yonsei team said they did not experienced any kinds of inconveniency while moving. In comparison, many buildings in Korea, while meeting the minimal requirements for the disabled, were much less considerate towards the disabled. . According to a study done by the Korea Bureau of Social Welfare, 54.9 % of the disabled people in Korea experienced inconveniency in their outer activities due to “ lack of disability-friendly facilities. As such, in terms of facility, the United States seems to hold the upper hand. The United States has an independent federal agency called United States Access Board, which continues to enforce accessibility standards to federally funded facilities. A total budget of $7,548,000 was enacted just for maintaining disability friendly design criteria. It shows that the United States consider trivial details of the facilities for the disabled.
The second difference we experienced was at an advanced institution: Stanford University. At there, we had a chance to meet with the director of the Disability Center of Stanford University to discuss about policies towards the disabled in university. Surprisingly, the policy in Stanford University was not much different from that of Yonsei University. One minor difference may be that when compared to Yonsei University, Stanford University had a much larger and well-organized system to run the disability center. Yet there was one distinctive difference. Unlike our university, which only supports students with physical disabilities, Stanford was also taking students with “Learning Disability”, such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), into consideration and was offering full support, such as specialized classes, scholarship, and facilities for students with this kind of disability. In fact, most of the students registered at Stanford Disable Center had learning disability rather than visible, physical disability. Also, among the five universities (Standford, UC Berkerley, UCLA, UC Irvine, CSUN) we visited, all the representatives explained that number of students who have learning disability were considerably larger than students with physical disability.
The third difference was that it seemed like Americans are relatively more willing to give up their resources for the sake of the disabled. Accordingly to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about 12 percent of the federal budget of $2.8 trillion in 2013, or $398 billion, was used to provide social aid to individuals and families facing various hardships, including households supporting disabled. Even when considering the population of the disabled, on an individual basis, the United States is giving more monetary supports for the disabled than Korea. I was able to experience this difference from personal experience at downtown San Francisco. Every two to three bust stops, there was a special wheel chair accessible elevator that helped wheel chair users get in and out of the buses. What surprised me further was that when wheelchair users got on and off the bus, there were no passengers complaining about the delay. In fact most passengers found the process common and natural.
Despite the huge differences we experience, both Korea and the United States were enforcing similar laws that prohibited any kinds of discrimination towards the disabled. In Korea it is called the PDDA (Prohibition of Disability Discrimination Act) and in United States it is called ADA (America’s Disability Act). Both are similar in the fact that they include a wide range of civil rights for the disabled. Yet there was one crucial difference; the United States enacted ADA in 1990 while Korea enacted the PDDA in 2007 – a twenty year gap. Until recently, discriminations against the disabled were not prohibited by law in Korea, and even now people are relatively unaware of the discriminations towards the disabled. This is mainly due to the fact that the PDDA was implemented for a short period of time. Yet in the case of America, the 20 year period have allowed people to get accustomed to the law, making people more aware of the disabled and their circumstances. Of course everything is not pictured perfect in the United States, as there are still some issues to settle regarding the employment of disabled, but generally speaking, life for the disabled is much nicer due to high level of awareness towards the disabled that was enabled by the early adoption of the Disability Act, and in time, I believe Korea can achieve the same level of consideration.
Yet to truly break the barrier of discrimination, the disabled should learn to break the barrier of discrimination within them. . It is undeniable that the disabled cannot fulfill all of their needs without the help of others. Yet most disabled people in Korea seem to take help from others for granted. Just like how others should learn to understand and socialize with the disabled, the disabled people should learn to socialize with non-disabled people as well. In order to do so, the disabled should learn be patient with their needs and learn to put off their necessities a little more so as to consider the non-disabled people around them. This could in turn, help develop a sense of independence for the disabled and help them relate with our society naturally.
With the enactment of Prohibition of Disability Discrimination, the disabled in South Korea attained a legal and institutional base to protect their rights. However, it has only been seven years since the law passed and people need more time, and effort, to get used to this change. Yet, it is not only the duties of the non-disabled, but the disabled should try to break the self-discriminating barriers as well. When this happens, I believe Korea can become another haven for the disabled.